NEW: "On the war front, we can say there is peace now," government spokesman says
Nigeria and Boko Haram have agreed to a ceasefire
The deal includes the release of more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls
The agreement was reached Thursday after talks in Chad between the two groups
Nigeria has reached a ceasefire agreement with the Islamist terror group Boko Haram that includes the release of more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls, Nigerian officials said Friday.
The deal, first reported by Agence France-Presse, came Thursday night after a month of negotiations with representatives of the group, said Hassan Tukur, principal secretary to President Goodluck Jonathan.
“We have agreed on the release of the Chibok schoolgirls, and we expect to conclude on that at our next meeting with the group’s representative next week in Chad,” Tukur said.
Officials provided few details about the release.
Doyin Okupe, a government spokesman, said the ceasefire deal was meant not only to free the girls but also to end the insurgency.
“A batch of them will be released shortly, and this will be followed by further actions from Boko Haram,” he said. “It is a process. … It is not a question of hours and days.”
The Nigerian government consented to some demands by Boko Haram, but Okupe declined to provide details.
The government, he said, “is looking beyond the girls. We want to end the insurgency in this country.”
“On the war front,” he added, “we can say there is peace now.”
The agreement was first reported by Agence France-Presse.
The terrorist group abducted an estimated 276 girls in April from a boarding school in Chibok in northeastern Nigeria. Dozens escaped, but more than 200 are still missing.
Nigerian officials met with Boko Haram in Chad twice during talks mediated by Chadian President Idriss Deby, according to Tukur.
“The group has shown willingness to abide by the agreement which it demonstrated with the release of the Chinese and Cameroonian hostages few days ago,” Tukur said.
In cross-border attacks by Boko Haram this week, eight Cameroonian soldiers and 107 group members were killed in heavy fighting that lasted two days in northern Cameroon, the country’s defense ministry said Friday, according to state broadcaster CRTV.
The militants led an incursion near Limani, close to the border with Nigeria, on Wednesday, equipped with heavy weapons, including at least one tank, CRTV said, citing information from the defense ministry.
The fighting lasted two hours and resumed on Thursday, when Cameroonian soldiers forced the militants back across the border into Nigeria. Seven Cameroonian soldiers were injured. A Boko Haram tank and other vehicles were destroyed and weapons and ammunition were seized by Cameroonian forces, according to CRTV.
A source involved in talks with the militants told CNN last month that Nigerian government officials and the International Committee of the Red Cross had discussions with Boko Haram about swapping imprisoned members of the group for the more than 200 schoolgirls. It is unclear, however, whether the deal includes a prisoner swap.
Boko Haram, whose name translates to “Western education is sin” in the Hausa language, is trying to impose strict Sharia law across Nigeria, which is split between a majority Muslim north and a mostly Christian south. Like ISIS, it has ambitions for a caliphate, or religious state.
In recent years, its attacks have intensified in an apparent show of defiance amid the nation’s military onslaught. Its ambitions appear to have expanded to the destruction of the Nigerian government.
As part of its insurgency, it has bombed schools, churches and mosques, kidnapped women and children, and assassinated politicians and religious leaders alike.
The group has said its aim is to impose a stricter enforcement of Sharia law across Nigeria, which is split between a majority Muslim north and a mostly Christian south.
CNN’s Robyn Turner contributed to this report.